National Environmental Policy Act
Did you know there is a sea creature capable of producing bubbles that are louder than a gun and hotter than lava? Pistol shrimp, also known as snapping shrimp, are the super-powered creatures under the sea that no one talks about. These bite-sized crustaceans have a special claw that allows them to form the deadly bubble to shoot at unsuspecting victims or enemies. The sound of the pop of the bubble has been measured at 218 decibels, which is louder than a speeding bullet, and the heat generated by the bubble has been measured to reach almost 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit, making the bubble four-times hotter than lava. Like the pistol shrimp, we have brought you the heat in this edition of the Ag Law Harvest.
This Ag Law Harvest brings you agricultural and resource issues from across the country that have created their own noise, including animal liability laws, the reversal of relaxed environmental regulations, and requiring federal agencies to consider the impact of future agency activities on the environment.
Farmers and ranchers begin to enjoy new protections under Texas animal liability laws. Texas House Bill 365, which expands protections under Texas’ Farm Animal Liability Act (“FALA”), went into effect on September 1, 2021. House Bill 365 was passed in response to a 2020 Texas Supreme Court ruling which found that farmers and ranchers were not protected under FALA and could be liable for injuries that occur on working farms and ranches. The new law prevents an injured individual from holding a farmer or rancher liable for their injuries, so long as the injuries are a result of the inherent risks of being involved in routine/customary activities on a farm or ranch.
Federal Court revokes Trump Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The U.S. District Court in Arizona recently ruled that the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (“NWPR”) must be vacated because the rule contains serious errors and the Trump Administration’s rule could do more harm than good to the nation’s waters if left alone. Opponents of the NWPR argued that rule disregards established science and the advice of the EPA’s own experts in order to redefine the phrase “waters of the United States.” Specifically, opponents to the Trump Administration’s rule voiced their concern that the NWPR failed to take into consideration the effect ephemeral waters would have on traditional navigable waters. And the Court agreed. The Court found that the NWPR must be vacated because the rule “could result in possible environmental harm.” The Court also reasoned that because the EPA is likely to alter the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Biden Administration, the NWPR should not remain in place. Proponents of the NWPR claim that the Court’s ruling creates uncertainty for farmers and ranchers across the country.
EPA revokes Minnesota attempts to relax feedlot regulations. Earlier this year, Minnesota passed a law that relaxed the requirements to obtain a “Feedlot General Permit.” The Feedlot General Permit is usually only for Minnesota’s largest feedlots, some 1,200 farms. The permits are required under federal clean water laws but enforced by the state. Prior to the law being passed, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency required those farmers that applied manure during the first two weeks of October to implement one of four approved nitrogen management practices. However, Minnesota lawmakers wanted to relax those regulations by prohibiting regulatory authorities from requiring farmers to take new steps to limit nitrogen runoff during October. But, the EPA “vetoed” Minnesota’s relaxed regulations, which it can do when a state’s law conflicts with a federal law or regulation. The EPA sent a letter notifying Minnesota that the relaxed regulations would be inconsistent with the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) and would result in an improper modification to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s authority to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”), which administers the feedlot permits. Proponents of the new Minnesota law claimed that the existing permits were not flexible enough and that regulatory authorities focused on an arbitrary calendar date rather than focusing on natural conditions when limiting a farmer’s ability to spread manure. Opponents to Minnesota’s law argue that the EPA did the right thing by using “common sense improvements to prevent manure runoff.”
Department of Homeland Security found to have violated environmental regulations for its border-enforcement activity. The Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva (the “Plaintiffs”) filed suit in federal court claiming that the Department of Homeland Security and its agency, Customs and Border Protection, (the “Defendants”) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants failed to update their programmatic environmental analysis for border-enforcement activity since 2001, as required by NEPA, and that Defendants failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) about the impacts of border-enforcement activity on threatened or endangered species, as required by the ESA. In its opinion, the U.S. District Court of Arizona ruled that the Defendants did violate NEPA but not the ESA. The Court found that NEPA has two primary goals: (1) require every federal agency to consider the environmental impact of the agency’s actions; and (2) require the federal agency to inform the public that it has considered the environmental impact. NEPA also requires a federal agency to supplement its environmental impact statement if there is ongoing action being taken by the federal agency. The Defendants claimed they did not violate NEPA because they conducted and provided site-specific or project-specific environmental assessments. However, the Court ruled that although the Defendants did conduct project-specific analysis, they are required to supplement their environmental impact statement for the activity/program, as a whole, unless they legally opt out of the supplementation, which Defendants did not do until 2019. Therefore, the Court found the Defendants did violate NEPA prior to 2019. The Court also ruled that the ESA does not require federal agencies to consult with the FWS on a broad and continuing basis. The Court felt that the Defendants had met any requirements under the ESA by meeting with the FWS for any site-specific or project-specific analysis. Although the Court found that Defendants had violated NEPA, the Court concluded that Plaintiffs had waited too long to bring the lawsuit and that no remedy was available to Plaintiffs for the previous procedural violations of NEPA.
USDA announces changes to CFAP 2. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced changes to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (“CFAP 2”). As a result of the changes, contract poultry, egg, and livestock producers, and producers of “sales-based commodities” – mostly specialty crops – can modify existing or file new applications by October 12, 2021, using either 2018 or 2019 to measure lost revenue in 2020. The changes were published on August 27, 2021, and can be found here.
Tags: CFAP 2, endangered species act, National Environmental Policy Act, EPA, Feedlot Permits, WOTUS, Animal Liability